Sat, 27 Mar 1999

Company told to pay for ammonia leak

JAKARTA (JP): Food seasoning producer PT Ajinomoto, based in Mojokerto, East Java, should compensate people affected by ammonia leaked from its storage cylinder, but closing the company is asking too much, a government official said Friday.

Teguh Soedarsono, head of the law enforcement information center at the office of the State Minister of Environment, said terminating the company's activities would not atone for the suffering of the victims.

"It's more important to demand the company to be made accountable for the incident," he said.

Antara reported that at least 22 people in Kedondong village, directly behind the seasoning factory, passed out or had breathing difficulties, while some 400 others were evacuated after the ammonia cylinder leaked on Thursday morning.

Mojokerto Police chief Lt. Col. Heru Setiawan said the leak occurred while a tanker truck was refilling the gas cylinder on the company compound.

The victims were immediately taken to a local hospital.

The police, in association with a team of experts from the Gresik petrochemical industry, evacuated about 400 people from the polluted area.

Workers at the hospital said the accident could have claimed lives had the rescue been delayed.

Teguh said that the victims, local residents, nongovernmental organizations and the government could file lawsuits against the company.

He added that the leak would not have occurred if the company was covered by environmental insurance.

"Environmental insurance requires close monitoring by the insurance company, which aims to prevent any claims resulting from environmental problems," Teguh said.

He said the government was unable to act as monitor.

Ammonia is a gaseous compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, with a pungent smell. (ste)